People live. People die. And we deal regularly with the deaths of public figures. Authors, performers, composers, artists, they are as mortal as the rest of us. But sometime one of those deaths hits us harder than the others.
Terry Pratchett has been one of my favorite authors since I discovered his work in the late 1980s. His interweaving of humor with fantasy caught my eye in The Color of Magic (the first book in his Discworld series), and continued throughout most of his other 70+ books. I introduced both of my kids to his books, and they both became ardent fans. Heather, now 27, owns more Pratchett books than anyone else I know, and Doug, now 22 and polishing up a fantasy novel of his own, is the one who called me this morning with the sad news of Sir Terry’s death.
There are many talented writers out there, and many versatile writers. There are not so many that are both. Pratchett wrote both alone and with co-authors. He wrote for both adult and teen audiences. He wrote mostly sword & sorcery, but also science fiction, historical fiction, various unclassifiable fiction, and non-fiction. And he wrote them all well. Dodger is classified as a YA novel, but I consider it one of the best pieces of historical fiction I’ve read. Good Omens brings the dark side of Neil Gaiman together with Pratchett’s humor and whimsy to be the funniest book ever written about the apocalypse.
And Pratchett’s talent was recognized and awarded. In 2005, his books represented over 3% of all hardback fiction sales in the U.K. Let that sink in for a moment. That’s a lot of books! Only J.K. Rowling beat him that year. He was knighted in 2009.
Forget the statistics for a moment, though. Pratchett’s death hit me hard because I loved his books and I could identify with his characters. He showed that you can be funny while still putting out impeccably researched and skillfully written novels. When I think of him, I think of the wonderful discussions I’ve had with my children about his books. I think of the times I’ve set down a Pratchett book because I just had to think about it for a little bit. And it hit me hard because he was suffering from something horrible: Alzheimer’s.
This man had a brilliant mind, and he was inflicted with a disease that was destroying that mind. I can’t imagine having to deal with a loss of memory and cognitive function, and it pains me to see it happen to someone like Pratchett. He donated a large amount of money to Alzheimer’s research in the hopes that he could help others, but it was far too late to help himself.
Farewell, Sir Terry! You were an inspiration, and I will greatly miss the rush to put new Pratchett books on the shelves at my bookstore — and snag an extra one for myself!
Wow. Just wow. There’s an article over on Slate entitled, “Against YA: Adults should be embarrassed to read children’s books.” I’ve read anti-genre screeds before, but this one is over-the-top in its haughty, holier-than-thou attitude.
People have opinions. That’s part of what makes us human. We all decide which books, movies, and music are good and which are bad. I can be as judgmental as the next guy (ask me about Twilight or Da Vinci Code). I do not, however, tell people that they should be “embarrassed” to read any particular book, and it’s ludicrous to say people should be embarrassed to read entire genres.
The opening line is, “Read whatever you want. But you should feel embarrassed when what you’re reading was written for children.” The article then continues to talk about YA books. The author, Ruth Graham, seems blissfully unaware that young adults are teens, not children. The books that she discusses in the article are all focused on things like love and relationships and coming of age. Children’s books are focused on things like cats in hats, using the potty, and dreaming about where wild things dwell. Or, when I write them, they’re about animal poop.
But I digress. My issue with this article — which is actually an editorial, but let’s not pick nits — really isn’t Ruth Graham’s ignorance of the difference between children’s books and young adult books. My issue is the dismissive attitude toward an entire genre.
I’ve heard these things before because I have eclectic tastes. I read a lot of science fiction, fantasy, and mysteries. I have enjoyed some young adult, Westerns, romances, and chick lit. And there’s not a darned thing wrong with that. I’m certainly not embarrassed to say that I’ve enjoyed some of the genre fiction a lot more than some of the drek that has somehow found its way onto bestseller lists in recent years. I could name some other booksellers that look down upon me because I read and enjoy genre fiction. I could also name some writers that look down upon me because I write technical nonfiction and children’s books instead of “real literature.”
I read for two reasons: to entertain myself and to educate myself. Sometimes, those happen simultaneously; I might mention Freakonomics or The Drunken Botanist. Sometimes, the education aspect is mere curiosity, when I just want to see why everyone is so excited about this book. But sometimes, when I’ve had a hard day and I just want to turn my brain off and relax, I’ll pick up a book by Carl Hiaasen or Janet Evanovich or Terry Pratchett and enjoy it. I’ve heard other book people call YA or genre fiction a “guilty pleasure,” but there’s nothing guilty about it for me. It’s just pleasure.
There are bad YA books, of course. There’s also bad literary fiction, bad nonfiction, and bad bacon (believe it or not). On the other hand, I have yet to find a genre with no hidden gems, and that includes supernatural romance. If I was embarrassed to read YA, I’d never have discovered books like Terry Pratchett’s Dodger (pictured above).
My advice to you is to ignore the BISAC classifications, the shelving sections, and Melvil Dewey. Wander a bookstore or library and pick up something that looks unfamiliar and interesting. Ask a friend for a recommendation. Use my suggestions from last February for finding new books (note #19 on the list).
If you end up reading a teen book or a romance, don’t hide it. Don’t be ashamed or embarrassed. Chat with people about it and they may suggest something else you end up enjoying.